History of corporal punishment

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In the gallery of penal practices, corporal punishment, or the dispensing of bodily harm in response to or as a deterring measure against crime, occupies a stable position as a marker of cruelty, especially when condoned by a central authority such as a state. From Cesare Beccaria to Émile Durkheim to Max Weber, and especially under the more recent and diverse influences of social philosophers Norbert Elias and Michel Foucault, modern students of punishment have construed cultures that allow physical pain to be legitimately, let alone publicly, inflicted as out of step with the process of civilization and as retaining a relic of an unenlightened past. Corporal punishment, however, has a far more complex history than a long and steady fall from grace, an inverse trajectory as it were to the progress of humanity (Scott 1938; Yelyr 1941). For, fluctuations in frequency aside, the past uses of corporal punishment were never devoid of reason, at least in the sense that it was mostly meted out proportionately, gradually, and with a view to achieving social goals far beyond individual suffering, such as shaming and paving the way to an offender’s reintegration. And, on the other, it is still used today: openly in certain milieus and surreptitiously in others, with some indications that it is nowhere near to being abolished. Indeed, some scholars have recently argued for an expansion of corporal punishment as a solution to the crisis of modern penology (Newman 1983; Moskos 2011).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice
EditorsGerben Bruinsma, David Weisburd
Place of PublicationNew York NY USA
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781461456902
ISBN (Print)9781461456896
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

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